Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dandling Babes and Weeping Jesus: The Bishops Continue Talking

Another news flash from the U.S. Catholic bishops: poor of the nation, you have found a friend! It’s the men who run the U.S. Catholic church. The U.S. Catholic bishops just released a statement expressing their solidarity with those hurting financially.

"Solidarity at a Time of Economic Crisis" states, “We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We are all in this together.”

Poor of the land, the bishops are in it, too! The bishops are in it with you! The bishops are in it with us (speaking here from the vantage point of an unemployed theologian, you understand, one without any health benefits.)

I trust that what the bishops say about their solidarity with the poor of the land will be heart-warming news for struggling Americans, because this statement comes from those who are, after all, not without resources. They come from men positioned not just to talk, but to help. Resources aplenty, in fact: rings, episcopal palaces, fine artwork and good china and cutlery by the truckload.

Mind you, the bishops don’t exactly say that they intend to translate their resources into actual physical assistance to families in need. In fact, they tell their “hurting, anxious or discouraged” brothers and sisters that they’ll pray for us.

But they surely wouldn’t have spoken of solidarity if they didn’t mean solidarity, would they? Real solidarity, the kind that that comes with a price, and demands our own involvement in addressing the needs of those with whom we are in solidarity.

So, poor of the land, those now struggling to make ends meet, hope is on the horizon: hie thee to the nearest episcopal palace. You’ll find solidarity there. Rings and artwork aplenty, waiting to be hocked or sold as a statement of solidarity with you. Hurry fast, before they give it all away in their haste to be in solidarity with the wretched of the earth.

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Meanwhile, key bishops are working hard to spin the election of Barack Obama as all about the economy and not about values (as if the two are ever distinct!) ( Both Cardinals George of Chicago and Cardinal O’Malley of Boston have recently made statements suggesting that the mandate the new president has received touches on economic rather than “values” issues such as gay marriage or abortion.

In that special land that only bishops occupy, one suspects, the bishops are now whispering among themselves about the need for people of faith to assure that the new president governs from that mythical “center-right” perspective so beloved of mainstream media types. And bishops. And the evangelical theocrats, with emphasis on “right” rather than “center.”

Get us out of the economic mess. But for pete’s sake, leave our “values” alone!

Look for more of this nonsense—a lot more—in coming days, from all those with whom the bishops have allied themselves in recent years around “values” issues that are somehow distinct from economic ones—you know, the issues that the current administration was somehow supposedly pursuing while it let the economy fall to shambles. The issues about which we have never seen any movement in the direction the bishops want, while they keep telling us to vote for those who at least talk about the issues. Even if they do nothing about them.

I couldn’t—God help me—avoid thinking of U.S. Catholic bishops and their failed leadership—today when I read Chris Hedges’ “Forget Red vs. Blue” essay at Alternet. Especially his chilling conclusion,

The core values of our open society, the ability to think for oneself, to draw independent conclusions, to express dissent when judgment and common sense indicate something is wrong, to be self-critical, to challenge authority, to understand historical facts, to separate truth from lies, to advocate for change and to acknowledge that there are other views, different ways of being, that are morally and socially acceptable, are dying.

Reading that makes me wonder what kind of Catholic values we’d see at play in the public square if the bishops had given priority in recent years to teaching people to think, make sound moral judgments about complex issues, dissenting when good critical judgment and common sense tell us something is wrong, separating truth from lies, dealing with nuance.

Instead, they have followed the authoritarian path, have supported a catechetical approach of spoon-feeding “truths” and “Catholic answers” to the flock, have suppressed theological inquiry and all dissent about “non-negotiable” issues. And have colluded with political leaders who never in the slightest degree intended to serve Catholic values.

Meanwhile, with sign upon sign indicating that American Catholics are, on the whole, so fed up with this betrayal of pastoral leadership that most of us are simply no longer listening, the bishops promise to challenge Mr. Obama. (As they challenged his predecessor, you understand.)

Oh, and in really important news that zings to the heart of the leadership crisis and pastoral needs of the flock, they have passed a new proper of the seasons and spent time debating the use of the word “gibbet” in the liturgy. And since it’s never inappropriate to dandle babies when one wants to divert attention from failed leadership, they have also decided to bless babies—in the womb and out of it.

Just not getting it . . . . Surely Jesus weeps.